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I bustle around my studio, trying to run through my mental list of things to take while my best friend, and assistant, Channing, follows me around. “Are you sure about this whole Uber thing?” she asks. “You’ll be on the road with a complete stranger for God knows how long. I don’t like it, Oak.” I huff a breath, blowing an errand strand of hair from my face. “What other choice do I have? You know there’s no way in hell I’m climbing in a dick-shaped metal tube and flying to Napa.” Not even for my beloved — note the sarcasm — baby sister’s wedding. Channing doesn’t know the real reason I don’t fly. Not many people do. Channing rolls her eyes. “Your fear of flying is ridiculous, you know that right? And don’t even get me started on how much this little drive across the damn country is going to cost you.” Another valid point, but not one I’m willing to concede out aloud. Instead, I grin, and reply, “I’m not paying for the trip, dear ol’ Dad is.”
Channing’s eyes widen, and her mouth makes an O. “Does he know he’s footing the bill?”
“Of course not,” I scoff, grabbing my planner from my work desk. It pretty much holds my entire life inside. “He’d have a conniption. But, after all the hell Magnolia has put me through with her brides maids’ dresses, and her wedding gown and he back-up wedding gown, it’s the least my father can do.” Channing thinks on it a moment. “Fair enough, but I still hate this plan. It’s stupid, and lame, and so not an Oakley-type thing to do.” She’s not wrong, but if my family expect me to show up to Magnolia’s wedding in freakin’ Napa, this is how I’m going to do it. On my terms. So, Uber across the country it is. I check my watch. “Speaking of, my Uber will be here soon. Have we boxed up the wedding gown, and all the other garment bags?”
“Yes.” Channing points to the giant red and white box in the corner which holds an Oakley Addington original gown, and the garment bags with my outfits. Those will be sent via courier, simply because I already have too much luggage to take with me. “Do you have everything you need? I know you have, like, five thousand lists for this trip.” My best friend knows me well. If it’s not on a list, and in my planner, it’s not happening. Or being packed. To some it might seem excessive, but in my line of work it’s absolutely vital. Contrary to popular belief, fashion designers hate flying by the seat of their pants — we like order, we like timeliness, and we like things to go according to plan. Which is why every part of this road trip is planned to a T. I have every stop mapped out for optimal travel time. If I’m even a day late, my stepmonster, Charity, will bite my head off.
“Need me to show you how the app works one more time?” Channing asks, tucking some of her mahogany brown hair behind her ear. “If you get it wrong, you’ll end up in bumble fuck nowhere and miss the whole wedding altogether. And you can’t trust a man with directions.”
“Now wouldn’t that be a belated Christmas miracle,” I remark. “I still don’t understand why we all have to go to California. Magnolia could have just had it at the Plaza like all the other husband-hungry girls in her circle of friends.” Everyone knows the Plaza is the place to get hitched, especially if you want an unfaithful husband. To his credit, I don’t think Magnolia’s husband, Julien, is the type, though, even if my father and his wife don’t like him. He’s just well-renowned wine maker from France. Oh the horror. Channing snorts. “This is Magnolia we’re talking about, since when does she do anything in half measures?” I wave her off, not wishing to add to my anxiety by talking about my younger-by-almost-nine-years half-sister. That half is important because I wouldn’t dare acknowledge her as my sister, and when I do, it’s slip of the tongue. Or out of polite obligation in front of her mother. “Show me, it’s almost time for me to leave and I’m still not sure I have everything I need.”
“You’re helpless,” Channing huffs, throwing her hands in the air. Her own notebook almost goes flying. As much shit as she gives me for having a planner, and lists for everything, she’s just as attached to her notebook.
I grin. “But you love me.”
Channing gives me a droll look. “Right, and that has nothing to do with the fact that you sign my exorbitant pay checks.” She pulls my phone from my handbag, and opens the Uber app, explaining exactly how it all works for what feels like the millionth time. The rating system is, for obvious reasons, my favorite feature, considering everything in my life happens, or doesn’t, based on ratings. And if this brave soul, the only driver willing to accept my Uber request, isn't anything but spectacular, he’ll get a shitty rating. Point blank. When Channing has shown me everything I need to know, again, and made sure it all coincides with the how-to notes I wrote in my planner, she helps me gather my many belongings. I don’t exactly travel light, but show me a woman who does.
“Have you told your stepmonster you don’t have a date?” It’s an innocent question with a rather complicated answer, but I give her the same response I’ve been giving her since I received my invite in the mail over a year ago. “I RSVPd for one person, if she doesn’t understand that means I’m attending solo, then there’s no help left for her. She’s not the brightest bulb in the box, in case you forgot.”
“Oh, believe me, I haven’t forgotten. We know she hit her head on the stripper pole your father found her on one too many times, but what kind of bestie would I be if I didn’t remind you on a daily basis that your family is dysfunctional as fuck.”
“The better kind, actually. I could do without your reminders that my father married Charity for her, what did you call it, ability to suck like a Hoover. I’d rather not think about it, and get this trip over with.”
“Says the woman who’s about to spend over forty hours with someone she doesn’t know. Seems like a pretty legit way to get this trip over with. And potentially end up dead.”
“Ugh,” I groan. “Enough, Chan. Okay? My anxiety is already sky-high because of all the last-minute changes to Magnolia’s dress. I don’t need to be ridiculed about my choice in travel right now.” Channing hands me my oversized handbag, and takes ahold of my suitcases. “Fine, I’ll give it a rest, but I would like to point out the absolute cheek of Charity and Magnolia asking you to design all the bridal party’s dresses without actually asking you to be a bride’s maid. You deserve to be the maid of honor, at the very least.” Even months later, it still stings, knowing I was excluded from the actual wedding party. Only Channing knows how much it bothered me, and how I distracted myself by making the most beautiful dresses imaginable. Work is always a balm to my frayed mind, to the extent that saying work is my life wouldn’t be far-fetched.
“I’m over it,” I tell Channing, walking down the stairs of my spacious studio in the Garment District. “And besides, if Magnolia was so fucking punctilious and painful about her dress, can you imagine the hell she inflicted on her maid of honor? I would have declined the invite to her bachelorette party and her bridal shower anyway. Had a been invited, I would’ve probably taken pleasure in saying no without a valid excuse. Besides, all those immature, giggling trust fund brats. Jesus. It gives me a headache just thinking about it.” I open the mustard-colored double doors, and shiver when a gust of wind blows inside. It’s cold as shit outside, a light shower of snow coating the side walk and surrounding buildings in fine, white powder. It happens to be my second favorite time of year, despite the chilly temperatures. Coats, boots, beanies, gloves, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Christmas lights, and Carols by Candlelight. I even like the random people who sometimes show up at my door just to sing and spread the holiday cheer. All the cheese, as Channing would say, even though she’s a total sucker for a cheesy Christmas romance movie. She stops beside me, and quickly shoves my beanie on my head and straightens my glasses. “Call me every hour if you have to, okay? I’m still uncomfortable with you traveling so fucking far with a random guy who could be the long last cousin of Jack the Ripper.” Her concern warms my heart, but her words prickle at the discomfort I also feel about this trip. “I’ll be fine,” I tell her. “I’ll send updates regularly, and I’ll even send you a picture of the driver if that’ll make you feel better.” She frowns, and says, “You haven’t seen what this guy looks like?” My brows furrow. “Uh, no. Should I have?”
Channing rolls her green eyes. “Yes! They have profiles for a reason. You should know what he looks like and what car he’s driving. Have you listened to anything I’ve been saying since you hatched this hare-brained plan?”
“I’m sorry, Chan. I’ve been preoccupied with work, which you should know considering you’re my ass-istant.” We’ve been absolutely slammed, both pulling sixteen-hour work days to get the new summer collection ready for Kleinfeld. Not to mention the weekends we’ve been working just to keep everything on schedule. She looks around. “So you have no clue at all what your driver looks like?” I glance down at my phone, and pull up the message generated by the app. “I just have the registration details of the car, and the make. It’s a Mercedes. That’s all I know.”
Channing’s phone pings and she let’s out an exasperated sigh. “Damnit, I have to go, but seriously Oak, I want a message the minute you’re in the car, and a picture of the driver. I need to know what the fucker looks like in case you go missing.”
“I won’t go missing, okay?” I stretch on the balls of my feet, and hug one of the only people who gives a genuine crap about me. “Go back inside, I’ll text as soon as I’m on the road. I’ll also check my emails, but let me know how things go here while I’m away.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll keep your neuroses in check. This place won’t fall apart in your absence, I promise.” She kisses my cheek. “And in return for keeping things afloat, and in order, you’ll do me the honor of getting yourself laid at this ridiculous wedding. God knows your cooch could use some love. You must have cobwebs between your legs by now, and that’s just so sad.”
“My cooch is just fine.” I shoo her back inside. “Call you later.”
With a wave, Channing disappears inside, and I wait. And wait. And wait. An hour later, a silver Mercedes — a classic 1955 Gullwing — pulls to a stop in front of the sidewalk. I think nothing of it, considering classic cars worth millions are a dime a dozen in the city, but the driver opens the door, and steps out. I eye him warily.
“You Oakley?” He asks, sifting his glasses up his nose. My mouth drops open. I blink. And blink and blink and blink. This guy is wearing nothing but a t-shirt and cargo pants in eight degree weather, and looks like he’s barely out of fucking college. Actually, scratch that, he looks like a glorified frat boy. I check the app again to make sure there hasn’t been a serious error, but no, the registration details on the app match the sports car.
“That depends,” I reply, eyeing him up and down, my gaze flitting between him and the car. “Who’s asking.”
He grins, showing off perfect white teeth. “I’m your Uber driver.”
“Come again?” This has to be a joke. I snap a quick picture of the car, the guy included, and send it to Channing with the caption, You can’t be serious! Did you do this?
Her reply is instant. No dumbass, that would be you. You ordered a stranger on the internet, not me.
I’ll be driving you to,” he checks his phone, “Napa Valley.”
What to do? What to do? What to?
“Are you even old enough to drive?” What I really want to know is if he stole the car.
“Of course, I am,” he replies. His smile is too chill, and skeeves me out for some reason. Like he’s happy about this damn trip. Unlike me.